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Esbjörn Svensson Trio Leucocyte Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

It's a testament to an artist whose life was always a work in progress.

Chris Jones 2008

Considering that this is the last we will ever hear from the wonderful e.s.t (pianist Esbjorn Svensson having tragically died in a diving accident earlier this year, at the age of 44) it's impossible not to feel sadness while listening to Leucocyte. Yet it's not for just the passing of one of the world's most talented jazz musicians. It's also for the fact that a band, so psychically linked and at ease with each other should, at this fascinating stage of their development, be robbed of the chance to grow and change as they undoubtedly would have done.

Composed of childood friends Svensson and drummer Magnus Ostrom, along with bassist Dan Berglund, e.s.t's last album, Live In Hamburg, seemed to be drawing a line under the ECM-friendly-with a-touch-of-rock-trio period of their career. Equally at home on the festival as well as jazz circuits, you could feel it was time for a change.

Leucocyte reminds you that, despite carrying the pianist's name, the trio were a band of equal thirds. It's Berglund's earthy tones that drive much of the first half of the album. Following the delicate introductory meditation, Decade, Premonition sounds hungry for just such a change. The feedback and distortion are comparable to Australia's Necks, but under it all Svensson's voice echoes the changes, and his keys can never resist the Jarrett-esque flourishes that trip lightly over the atmospherics. Not once does the soloing take the place of progression and thematic exploration. And the attack always veers towards that rock aesthetic that rears its head most ironically on the number entitled Jazz.

But it's the album's second half suite, Leucocyte, that indicates where the trio were headed next. Mixing in far more electronics; erasing melody, leaving just the warp and weft of instrumental texture, and even (on part two's Ad Interim) resorting to total silence: it shows us a band that were now fearless and confident enough to really experiment.

Leucocyte is far from a perfect album, and that's why it's so heartbreakingly good. It's unsure in parts, and occasionally too wilfully rough. But it's a pointer to a future that's been cruelly denied us. We can only dream of what might have happened next. But thank goodness we have this to remember Svensson by. It's a testament to an artist whose life was always a work in progress.

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